British Imperialism During WWII: Invasion of Iceland (1940)

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British Soldiers Occupying Iceland During WWII

The Churchillian propaganda of WWII is that Great Britain – this tiny island – stood alone between 1939 and 1941 (the year the US entered the war), and withstood the might of the Nazi German armed forces. What is not generally mentioned is that Great Britain ruthlessly retained and ruled one of the biggest empires the world has ever known, and possessed much greater access to natural resources and man-power than did Nazi Germany.  The ‘fortress Britain’ mythology was perpetuated by Churchill as a means to play-down the humiliating defeats suffered at the hands of the Germans in Europe and North Africa, and against the forces of imperial Japan throughout Asia. These military defeats were making Britain appear both politically and military weak in the eyes of the world, and so Churchill perpetuated the myth of a ‘struggling’ Britain fighting against the odds. This (false) sentimentalist version of British history is still taught today in UK schools, and more or less goes unquestioned. The fact of the matter, however, was that Great Britain was a major world power at the time of the breakout of WWII, and possessed incredible resources to fight a major war both inside and outside of Europe. Churchill was chosen as the war-time leader simply because he was a renowned imperialist who possessed the will-power to keep the British empire intact against external threat.

Just one month before the Battle of Britain in June 1940, Winston Churchill ordered the Royal Navy to land Royal Marines on the shores of Iceland, and invade that small island nation.  This act of British aggression was justified by Churchill on the grounds that Denmark had already surrendered to invading Nazi German troops on the 9th of April, 1940, and that the British government wanted to prevent the Nazi German forces advancing into Iceland unopposed. Churchill’s government had been in negotiations prior to the invasion with the Icelandic government about the possibility of British troops being used to ‘defend’ Iceland, but the Icelandic government – viewing this as a blatant act of imperialist aggression on behalf of Great Britain – refused permission.  Iceland had gained its independence from Denmark after WWI, but retained the King of Denmark as Head of State, and as Iceland possessed no army, navy or airforce, relied upon Denmark for its national security. However, following Denmark’s defeat, Iceland formally declared its ‘Independence’ from Denmark on April the 16th, 1940 (requesting assistance from the United States). Despite protests of self-determination from the Icelandic government, Churchill eventually gave permission for Operation Fork to be launched at 4:00am on the 8th May, 1940, under the command of the WWI veteran Colonel Robert Sturges, who led around 800 men of the untested 2nd Royal Marine Battalion, supported by two Royal Navy cruisers and two destroyers. It is stated in historical accounts that the young Royal Marines selected, were still in basic training, with many not being familiar with the use of their particular weaponry. Together with this force was an Intelligence team, and unbelievably a ‘diplomatic mission’ sent by Churchill! The Royal Marines landed on May 9th, with the 70-strong Reykjavík police force offering no armed resistance – conveying the Icelandic government’s protest at the British violation of that island’s sovereign independence. These protests fell on deaf ears, and the British occupation of the rest of Iceland was completed without a shot being fired. It is reported that Icelandic citizens came to look at the British soldiers who had invaded their country. The British secured all the telecommunications, and began the immediate ’round-up’ of any ethnic-German people living in Iceland. In a bizarre twist, the British handed-over the occupation of Iceland to US forces in 1941 – an American presence that lasted until 2006. Even today Iceland still comes under the ‘protection’ of the United States.

Historical References:

http://history.stackexchange.com/questions/215/has-britains-1940-invasion-of-iceland-been-downplayed-by-historians

http://icelandmonitor.mbl.is/news/politics_and_society/2015/05/12/history_british_forces_occupy_iceland/

Operation Fork-the invasion of Iceland

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